For umpteen times Professor Qing Gao has been asked by Americans why China's global effort to promote the Chinese language and culture singles out Confucianism among all the other Chinese philosophies to teach.
"The truth is people still know little about the Confucius Institute, just as they know little about China," said Gao, director of the Confucius Institute at George Mason University, here in a recent interview.
"For a long time, the Confucius Institutes have probably been one of the most effective channels to bring China and Chinese culture to the world," Gao added. "And it will continue to be that channel to introduce China and Chinese to the Americans."
Deriving its name from the renowned ancient Chinese educator and philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC), the Confucius Institutes are non-profit institutions under China's Ministry of Education that aim to promote Chinese language and culture abroad.
"There are few people now who would underestimate the importance of healthy China-U.S. relations to the world," said Gao. "For a healthy bilateral relationship, the public understanding of each other's country is vital and that's what the Confucius Institutes here are aiming for: to introduce Chinese culture to the Americans."
Since the first Confucius Institute on American soil was established at the University of Maryland in 2004, the rapid development of the institutes in the country surprised many with about 100 U.S. universities now housing the institute and about 360 Confucius Classrooms offering lessons about Chinese language and culture across the United States.
The rapid development of the Confucius Institutes is inevitable, said Gao, adding that the program is a win-win situation for both the United States and China.
"In today's world, China plays a vital role in global economy, politics and culture. Therefore, for a person to pursue an ambitious career, he or she has to at least know about China and its culture," said Gao.
Before the Confucius Institute at George Mason University started to offer degrees in Chinese languages learning in 2011, Gao said only about a dozen of local students enrolled in the university's Chinese learning school.
Now, more than 300 full-time students are currently working on their Bachelor degrees in Chinese language.
"Our first batch of graduates graduated this year, and most of them have landed satisfactory jobs, including the U.S. State Department," said Gao. "Their proficiency in Chinese language and knowledge of the culture of a major power is definitely a booster for their career."
Though George Mason University already had its school of Chinese learning before the arrival of the Confucius Institute, Gao said the two entities cooperate with each other, with the Confucius Institute playing an auxiliary role and offering teacher training and cultural lessons.
"One major feature of the Confucius Institute program here in the United States is that the institutes adjust themselves to local conditions," said Gao.
"For universities already equipped with Chinese learning program, the institutes would then emphasis on faculty training and cultural teaching," he said.
According to Gao, there is a Confucius Institute which only teaches Peking Opera and an institute which only teaches Chinese traditional music.
"For educators, globalization of education is a trend. Under such a backdrop, the teaching of the Chinese language and culture is vital," added Gao. "U.S. universities are viewing the Confucius Institute as vital educational resources."